The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

July 1996

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 6.20.96 Copyright ©1996 alt.screenwriters

Terry: Way back in ’93 and ’94, media gurus everywhere were ballyhooing the marriage of Hollywood and Silicon Valley: studio execs signing on with high-tech startups, 500 channels around the corner (along with video-on-demand), “linear” media on its last legs, and interactive CD-ROMs, TV, and movies the wave of the future. I don’t know about you, but “video on demand”, in my neighborhood, means I go down to the local video store and yell at the counter clerk — and it doesn’t seem to me that interactive movies and CD-ROMs have made too much of an impact. So I think it’s fair to ask, after the sound and fury, whether this was all just Digital Hula-Hoops? (Particularly when it comes to screenwriters, who were being told that a multi-billion dollar market was just waiting for them to step up to the plate and knock a few out of the park.)

Deborah: Digital Hop Scotch, maybe. The entire industrialized planet has been jumping around trying to figure this out. But if you think it’s so dire, let me remind you of our stroll together through E3 a few weeks ago, the largest convention ever held in L.A. Talk about the impact of CD-ROM! Fox, Time-Warner, MGM, and Disney (just to name a few) showed off dozens of titles. I know I’m forever the optimist, but with nearly 1700 new titles introduced, I have to say this is a huge market for writers.

Terry: The cynical writer in me would point out that many of the titles I saw were “descendants of DOOM” — 3D action environments that, to a large degree, are simply contemporary equivalents of the old carnival shooting galleries. Back then, they didn’t have to bring in writers to paint the wooden ducks or clean the popguns. I’ve co-written the screenplays for two of the biggest full-motion video interactive titles ever made, but what I saw was a huge backlash against full-motion video. Was bringing the writer onboard just a passing fancy for this new medium?

Deborah: Hmm. Sounds like you spent all of your time in the South Hall, where the ceiling was black, the music was loud, and search-and-destroy was the name of the game. (It was pretty cool, huh?) But what about the rest of the show? I remember a lovely little black-and-white RPG (role-playing game) piece that caught our eye. Maybe “descendants of DOOM” don’t require story depth, but there are plenty of genres that do. For example, you’ve utterly ignored the children’s market. The smart studios are starting to take back some of the control and demand a model based more on film, where writers are naturally included. Small and large companies alike are calling me looking for help writing their interactive titles.

Terry: I’ll admit, I’m ignoring a good many titles we saw. Guild writer Howard Cushnir’s Obsidian; the Tex Murphy series; Electronic Arts’ Privateer … so maybe there is hope for the screenwriter in all this…

Deborah: I know you’ve heard the industry’s mantra, “There’s a lot of crap on the market.” Ironically, this is great news for writers. There is a lot of crap because many titles have been “written” by programmers who aren’t necessarily the best choices for crafting compelling stories with intriguing characters. This is a wake up call to publishers and developers, and I think they’re responding.

Terry: I’m not quite as convinced they’re responding yet — but perversely, I was encouraged by the plethora of DOOM-like titles that I saw. There will always be a market for non-story shoot-em-ups, obviously. The current overabundance of these titles is partially a result of new hardware platforms that are just taking off — but I think the buying public will tire of only one approach to interactive entertainment, and there will be a renewed thirst for story and emotion — for content.

Deborah: Content is our specialty. What’s the story? Who’s it about? Why do we care? The truth is that nobody does this part better than a writer. This new arena gives the writer an opportunity to look at things sideways and really get creative…

Terry: We’re at the dawn of what we can do with the new media at our disposal — the technology itself is going to look entirely different in another 15 years, and related to that, nobody foresaw the rapid growth of The Web, which has introduced a new set of opportunities and pitfalls for screenwriters.

Deborah: That might be interesting to kick around a little bit. But if we agree that there are opportunities for screenwriters in interactive and online media —

Terry: — for argument’s sake, I’ll agree —

Deborah: — then we should also talk about how to seize those opportunities. Where can a writer sign up?

Terry: I’d love to hear the answer to that one. Next month then?

Written by tborst

June 20, 1996 at 11:30 pm

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